The first sign of a squirrel problem is the sound of scampering overhead, especially early in the morning or at sundown.  When you go up into the attic to check it out, you are treated to the distinctive smell that indicates an animal has moved into your home.  You catch sight of a bushy tail and realize you have a squirrel in the attic.

Currently, parts of the Eastern United States are experiencing a population explosion of the gray squirrel, making it the most likely offender.  The uptick in this particular species is due to an extra litter that they produced last year, a direct result of an extremely healthy acorn season.  With a larger-than-normal squirrel population, there is an increased risk that they will find their way into your home.

What are the dangers of a squirrel infestation?

While searching for entry points to your attic, squirrels may damage siding, soffits, fascia boards, chimney flashing and even various types of exhaust fans.  Upon gaining entry, they will often build nests and therefore create a mess of droppings and urine when they make it their permanent residence.  Worst of all, they can chew through wires, creating potential fire hazards.

Squirrels can also harbor pathogens, such as salmonella and rabies, which can be harmful to humans, although transmission is rare.  Damage to property is a much more likely outcome of a squirrel infestation.  They can destroy furniture and other important household items, especially if they venture out into main living areas.

Why a squirrel in the attic?

Attics provide a warm and safe environment for squirrels to build their nests without fear from predators or the elements.  An attic allows a squirrel to store food and raise their young in relative comfort, increasing the likelihood of survival for themselves and their young.  This biological imperative is the biggest motive for a squirrel’s search for safe nesting grounds, so the biggest threat to the sanctity of your attic will be the nesting adult female squirrels.

Squirrels prefer to build their nests near openings, such as an unscreened vent or loose or rotten trim boards.  Babies are very dependent for the first few months and rarely stray from the nest, so they may be hard to find.  However, in February through May or August through October, babies are almost always present in active nests.

How do I remove the squirrels?

Squirrel removal is a difficult process to accomplish both humanely and legally.  Many states have laws against trapping and relocating squirrels without a permit.  This is likely due to the inherent risks in the process, especially when mothers and babies are involved.  If the two are separated before the babies reach 10 – 12 weeks of age, it will mean almost certain death for the young ones.   The mother squirrel will go to great lengths to return to her litter if separated, possibly causing more property damage in the process or injury to herself.

It is best to call a professional to remove a squirrel in the attic or any other area of your home.  Trained professionals can humanely and legally relocate unwitting intruders.  A professional can also help identify and seal up possible points of entry to prevent future squirrel problems.

The first step is identifying any opening that allows the squirrel access to the attic and sealing these gaps with metal flashing or wire mesh.  Cutting back overhanging tree branches can reduce squirrel’s access to the roof, while chimney caps can keep raccoons and squirrels out of the chimney.

Squirrels may be attracted to the house by bird feeders in the yard.  If squirrels are frequenting your bird feeders, try spraying your bird feed with cayenne pepper. Birds have no sense of taste, but as mammals, squirrels do. By keeping squirrels away from the yard, you reduce the likelihood of them moving into your attic.

A Squirrel in the Attic in Virginia

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